Why business is like ... parenting

Interfering parents may have their beloved offspring's best interests at heart, but their instincts can be counterproductive. In the 1950s, pediatrician Donald Winnicott argued that 'good-enough' parenting was better than 'perfect' parenting. Parents who meddle too much can hamper their child's progress to independence. Better to give them space to learn vital lessons for themselves.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Omnipresent business leaders who limit the scope for employees to develop often risk building an enterprise with little devolved power. Sir Fred Goodwin was accused by a former colleague at RBS of 'trying to do everyone else's job'; his team spent their time second-guessing their leader, rather than thinking for themselves. His temper rendered executives too scared to stand up to him, even when he was wrong. It's like the tennis-mad dad who berates his daughter for losing another match, failing to notice that she'd do better to study maths.

Bosses may baulk at loosening the reins just when commercial success seems predicated on risk reduction. But as the saying goes: 'Nothing grows in the shadow of a great oak.' Good-enough parents don't neglect or abandon their charge, but they recognise that kids who are always carried won't learn to walk. Same with good-enough leaders.

Jennifer Harris is director of JRBH Strategy & Management, www.jrbh.co.uk

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